Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of our Department of Health and Human Services, is the respected face and voice most of us associate with North Carolina's pandemic fight. In a recent interview with her on PBS NC we talked about the numbers who had received the COVID vaccine and I asked when we might reach "herd immunity." She replied that she doesn't think so much about that metric. She equates the numbers who have shots with hugs, saying she hasn't seen her parents in 15 months and now that both she and they have been vaccinated, she can't wait to safely hug them. To Cohen, that's a sure sign we were coming back to life.
In that same interview Dr. Cohen talked about the newly relaxed restrictions that allow us to gather in small groups without masks, if all have their shots. It was no surprise that she quickly cautioned that we aren't out of the pandemic yet. In addition to the fact that one in five adults has had the full course of shots, what is allowing us more freedom is the mitigation efforts we have practiced thus far. We need to continue wearing our masks, keeping respectable social distances and washing our hands frequently.
Too many either didn't hear or chose to ignore the last admonition. Across the state young people gathered, unmasked and decidedly not distanced, to socialize, drink and dance. One such celebrant, among a crowd estimated at well over a thousand in Raleigh said, "We're like puppies out of the pound."
Let us hope the puppies don't get COVID.
Over the past month our state has seen a marked decline from January's peak, however the numbers have stabilized the past couple of weeks and may be inching upward. Cohen is correct that we aren't out of the woods yet. Yes, we are weary of the restrictions over this past year. Right now, the question is whether we can get enough people vaccinated fast enough to beat this pandemic down to a level where we feel totally comfortable returning to eat in restaurants, going to concerts, sporting, church and other events with crowds. However, the speed of that return may be determined by those who refuse to take the vaccine.
It is estimated that as many as thirty percent are either hesitant or unconditionally refuse to take the shot. We hate acknowledging they might have power to slow our returning to life as we knew it, but the unvaccinated may become a stumbling block.
In the meantime, we celebrate the new freedoms. Like spring, we may be slowly emerging and coming back to life.
Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina Broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965. He recently retired from writing, producing and moderating the statewide half-hour TV program NC SPIN that aired 22 ˝ years. Contact him at email@example.com.